UCL lecturers share top tips for acing exams

2 March 2020

With the end of term in sight, it’s safe to say that you’re almost there! For that final push we’ve got some insider information on how you can ace those exams from the experts themselves!

sticky notes

Exam season might be fast approaching, but the ideal time to revise is already upon us. A quick search into Google for ‘revision tips’ will bring up a multitude of different suggestions from writers, but who better to hear advice from really than the very lecturers who teach and draft exams for your modules?

6 incredible lecturers from across UCL have generously shared their top pieces of advice for students revising for their exams. Best have a pen at the ready – you’ll want to add these tips to your notebook!

1. Stop revising and go for a walk, plus put your friends and family to work

Professor Joe Cain, Head of Department in Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Professor of History and Philosophy of Biology

"Simply shoving more information in doesn’t help. Give your brain time to process, to digest, to build, to reflect. Go for a 30-minute walk – clear of headphones, social media, news apps, and all that distracting tech – just you and the silence. Give your brain the space it needs to do its work. It also will help wake up your body and get it ready to do the work it needs to get the job done.

Put your friends and family to work. When a person explains a complex idea to someone else, they process the information more deeply and more robustly than if they don’t. So when you’re ready to test yourself, phone your mum, or your dad, or your gran, or that friend from some other class, or your cat, or that person you’ve been wanting to chat up. Tell them what you know."

2. Check your answers

Dr Mark Dsouza, Lecturer in Law

"My top suggestion would be this: After you’ve planned your answer, quickly read through the question again. Check: Have you directly answered the question? Have you addressed all parts of it? Are you using all the relevant information in the question? Once your answer to these questions is ‘Yes’, then write your answer."

3. Plan ahead and ask for help when you need it

Dr Simon Werrett, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS)

"Timetabling is a key issue for revision and worth thinking about well before the exams. Make a plan based on when you will be able to do revision and then stick to it.

Don’t be afraid to approach staff to ask for help with anything that’s unclear or you don’t understand. We’re here for you and always glad to help."

4. Schedule your revision for when you work most effectively

Professor Katherine Holt, Professor in Physical Chemistry

"Be aware of when you work most effectively - it is impossible to work at the same intensity all the time, so schedule in times to revise new material when your brain most easily takes in that information and use the times you are less efficient to review material you already know.

Take some time out to revise understanding and principles rather than just facts. For example, it is useful for scientists to practice doing unit conversions quickly so you don't need to think too hard about them during exams."

5. Start now

Professor Maria Lee, Professor of Law

"Don’t wait for the perfect time to start working for your exams – start now. Divide your time more or less evenly between your subjects. Stay well-slept, well-nourished and well-exercised."

6. Contact your personal tutor or Student Support and Wellbeing when personal difficulties affect your studies

Dr Elodie Douarin, Lecturer in Economics at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) and Director of the UCL Centre for Comparative Studies of Emerging Economies (CCSEE)

"The most important thing is ensuring that in the case where there is anything going on in your life that is preventing you from studying as well as you know you can, you should get in touch with your personal tutor or Student Support and Wellbeing and discuss the issue. If you need any adjustment, it is better to sort it out now. Later might be too late. Knowing that there is a safety net in place might be all you need to get back to feeling confident again.

Regarding revising itself, eat and sleep well and then plan. If you wake up every day knowing what you are supposed to revise or do on that day, you probably save a good 30 minutes each day. Start with the hard stuff (when you are fresh) and move on to the easier stuff as you get more tired. Practise on past exam papers, as it’s the only way to ensure you are really ready, and learn how to manage your time working on that particular paper format."